If recent reports are any indication, the NBA’s regular-season schedule could see some major tweaking in the next few years.
According to ESPN, the league “is eager to restart the conversation with its teams and the players’ association about adding a midseason tournament to the league’s calendar” in their efforts to make the regular season more competitive.
The report indicated that NBA commissioner Adam Silver views the league’s new play-in tournament as a potential driving force for the creation of the midseason format, which would require an agreement with the National Basketball Players Association and the approval of at least 20 of the league’s 30 teams.
Back in December of 2019, the league proposed an in-season tournament for the 2021-2022 season, featuring a 78-game regular-season schedule in place of the usual 82-game slate.
That proposal, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, would give players $1 million and would provide $1.5 million in a coaches’ pool for whichever franchise came out victorious.
The idea did not materialize into anything official, and the concept of a midseason tournament cannot become a reality until after the 2021-2022 season at the earliest.
But, the debate did create loads of conversation around the league, specifically for those wondering how a midseason tournament could actually work.
Luckily for the NBA, there are multiple, closely affiliated entities that have (or will soon get) experience with the idea.
For starters, the WNBA is rolling with a midseason tournament, entitled the “Commissioner’s Cup,” for the league’s 25th season.
“As part of the WNBA’s focus on innovation, the league will launch its inaugural Commissioner’s Cup in-season competition during the upcoming 2021 season,” the league wrote in a press release in May. “Conference rivalry bragging rights, a unique Commissioner’s Cup trophy and a prize pool of a half a million dollars will all be at stake when the inaugural WNBA Commissioner’s Cup Championship Game is played.”
According to the league, “60 select, intra-conference ‘Cup games'” will take place during the regular season, and will determine which teams will represent the Eastern Conference and Western Conference respectively in the inaugural Commissioner’s Cup Championship Game in August.
Those “Cup games” are the first home game and first road game each team plays against the other five teams in their conference, which will all take place before the WNBA’s midseason break for the Summer Olympics. All in all, each team will play 10 “Cup games” in 2021.
Each conference’s franchise with the highest winning percentage in the “Cup games” will then compete in the Commissioner’s Cup Championship Game in Arizona on August 12.
Players will then compete for a piece of a $500,000 prize poool, with members of the winning team able to earn “in excess of $30,000 per player.” The losing team’s players will have “an opportunity to earn $10,000 per player,” with an added $5,000 awarded to the game’s MVP.
If the NBA’s proposal from 2019 properly showcases what the league is thinking financially for the midseason tournament, then they could roll with a similar format with a richer prize pool if the WNBA’s concept works well in 2021.
Then, there’s the baseline that the NBA’s G League may be able to provide with their own midseason tourney, which could start in the immediate future.
According to Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer, “G League officials are progressing towards finalizing an in-season tournament for the 2021-22 regular season.”
Per Fischer, the tournament “will be an enhanced version of the format used in 2019, when teams participating in the minor league’s annual Showcase competed in a tournament for a $100,000 grand prize.”
Teams would play a slew of opening games that would decide which four teams advance to the enhanced prize-money tournament, while the remaining squads would compete in the usual annual event.
Unlike the WNBA, however, Fischer said the G League calendar “would function as a first and second season, sources said, where the teams’ records all reset at 0-0 before the final 36-game sprint.”
The NBA still has time to determine what type of format will be the best way to get the most out of its players in the midst of a regular season, and its partners certainly provide solid examples to work off of.
But, the financial piece is likely going to be the most difficult piece for the NBA to figure out, considering how much money the league’s superstars make on a yearly basis.
Trying to appease big names like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, James Harden and more with their heavy-duty salaries will be nearly impossible, and those are the exact players the league is likely trying to motivate as it relates to regular-season action.
A lot is still up in the air with the idea, and who knows if the NBA will even be able to get something put to paper in the next few years. But, a few things are guaranteed:
- It’s going to take the perfect proposal for the league to get serious effort from everyone who would be involved in a midseason tournament.
- The league will likely only get one shot at this, as a failure in a midseason tournament’s first year would likely derail the idea for good.
It’s do-or-die for Silver and company if they really want a midseason tournament, and the ball is officially in their court to make it a worthwhile experience for players and fans alike.